2 Women Almost At Sabarimala Shrine Blocked By Protesters, Priests

Sabarimala: After reaching the Sabarimala temple, the woman devotee has to climb 18 steps to the sanctum sanctorum, and walk into history

Sabarimala: A woman devotee is escorted by policemen on her trek to Sabarimala temple

Pamba/New Delhi:

Two women in body armour and helmets, who had trekked 5 km uphill to the Sabarimala temple on Friday escorted by about a 300 policemen in riot gear, were just 10 minutes from the shrine when a large group of protesters formed a human wall to block them.

The women, including a journalist, were 500 metres from the 18 steps -- the golden steps -- that lead to the sanctum sanctorum of the famous shrine where no woman between 10 and 50 years has been allowed for centuries.

On these steps sat about a dozen priests today, chanting and clapping, apparently to stop the women if they did make it through the last half km.

Last month, the Supreme Court overturned the ban on women of menstruating age entering the temple of Lord Ayyappa. But in the three days that Sabarimala has been open for the first time since the landmark order, no woman below 50 has made it to the shrine.

"I believe I've come here to enforce the Supreme Court order. Those women have the right to visit the temple," said S Sreejith, the Inspector General of Police leading the police escort with the women. "I am also an Ayyappa devotee," he told protesting devotees.

But his historic mission seemed to get progressively more challenging as the minister in charge of the Devaswom Board, which runs the temple, described the women as activists -- not devotees.

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Hyderabad-based journalist Kavitha Jakkar is escorted by policemen on her way to the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala

Devaswom Board minister Kadakampally Surendran told NDTV any genuine devotee who wants to go up will be given protection. "But we will not allow activists to turn Sabarimala into a place to prove themselves," Mr Surendran said.

Kavitha Jakkal, a journalist with Mojo TV from Hyderabad, started the climb in riot gear and a yellow helmet, ring-fenced from protesters by policemen.

The other woman, wearing black clothes and carrying the traditional prayer kit irumudikkettu offered to Lord Ayyappa, walked separately.

Both started the 4.6-km climb from the base camp Pamba.

Protests by devotees in the last two days to block women from entering the temple led to violence and clashes at the base camps of Nilakkal and Pamba. Reporters were attacked, their vehicles damaged, and women who started the long climb forced to turn back amid threats and intimidation.

On Thursday morning, two journalists of the New York Times who tried to reach the temple had to return after protesters blocked their way.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said no one would be allowed to stop women from going to Sabarimala.

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